Sunday, 22 January 2017

How to Say Thank You - Guest Post Vivien Hampshire


I first 'met' Vivien when she was a short story writer and we found ourselves sharing the pages of the same magazines. Since then, Viv has branched out into novel writing and her debut romantic novel, How to Win Back Your Husband, was published on Wednesday... hurray!

In celebration of her new book, Vivien has very kindly offered to write a post for me on the best way to say thank you to all the people who help authors along the path to publication.

Over to you, Viv.


HOW TO SAY THANK YOU

When Wendy asked me to appear on her blog, the first thing I said was ‘Thank you.’ Well, you do, don’t you? It’s the polite thing to do.

We all do it, almost automatically, every time someone hands us a gift, holds a door open, or passes the salt. We write thank you letters after Christmas, or make sure our children do, and we can even buy ready-made Thank You cards in the shops, so we don’t have to work out exactly what to say. But there comes a time in a professional writer’s life when we are expected to say thank you in a much more formal and permanent way, and very much in our own words... and that’s the day when we are asked to compile our first acknowledgements page.

After a year of writing my novel, followed by the long and painful process of looking for either an agent or a publisher to take it on, and then weeks of working through edits and changes, it was lovely, when the book was finally ready to meet the world, to be given the chance to say thank you to anyone and everyone who has helped me along the way. No word limit, said my editor. Thank as many people as you like. It’s entirely up to you…

I must admit that visions popped into my head of Oscar winners who stand on stage just a little too long, thanking their producer, their agent, their fellow actors, everyone who voted for them, their parents, their first drama teacher, their taxi driver, the midwife who brought them into the world, their dog… As the list of people nobody has ever heard of gets longer and longer, you can see the audience losing interest as their eyes glaze over and they start to nod off!

So, I needed my list to cover the essential people who really had helped me, without going over the top… and, more importantly, without leaving anyone important out. I thought perhaps a good place to start might be by reading the acknowledgements in other authors’ novels. Not to copy them, obviously, but to get an idea of how many pages they might use up, who they choose to thank, and how.

One of my favourite books in the last couple of years has been I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Now, I knew that was Clare’s first novel, just as How To Win Back Your Husband is mine, so I took a look at her page of thank yous first. And, yes, it was just a single page. But her opening words rang very true: ‘I always used to read the acknowledgements pages of books and wonder how on earth so many people could be involved in the creation of a single piece of work. Now I understand.’

She goes on to thank all the obvious people in the publishing world - her early readers, agent and publishers - before moving on to friends and family, highlighting the fact that they have not only believed in her but supported her and cheered her on ‘from the sidelines’ – what an apt image that is as we writers sit with our heads down writing away like mad while others can only look on and help in simple ways like bringing tea and giving us the time and space we need.

Having listened to Jane Corry give a fascinating talk at a recent RNA meeting, I turned to her book next. In My Husband’s Wife Jane has included two pages of acknowledgements, starting on similar lines to Clare’s but also thanking various people who helped with research - Jane’s book enters the world of prisons and the legal system, with a few medical questions thrown in for good measure. Was there anyone like that who I needed to thank?

And, lastly, I turned to Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Book Shop. It’s the book I’ve just finished reading - and its title sounds a little like mine, don’t you think? But here I drew a blank. Apart from a one-line dedication to her late father, there is no acknowledgements page at all.

So, it really was up to me. I could thank pages and pages of people or nobody at all! I settled for somewhere in between. Of course, I mentioned my writing friends, although not all of them by name. And my editors. And a few ex-colleagues in the children’s centre where I used to work, whose day to day work with toddlers had inspired a few scenes in the book. But I kept my husband until last on the list, just as so many writers seem to do. Without husbands, wives, partners, supportive families at home, how would we ever get around to writing a whole novel and still manage to keep the house clean, the freezer stocked, and put food on the table? I certainly couldn’t have done.

So, when you write your first book, who are you going to thank? Please don’t say the dog!

Vivien Hampshire



HOW TO WIN BACK YOUR HUSBAND
Published by HQ Digital on 18 January 2017

Nicci has made one stupid and seemingly unforgivable mistake and, after eight years together, her husband Mark is divorcing her. Her best friend is determined to help her get over it, start enjoying life again and move on, but Nicci knows getting over Mark just isn't an option - she still loves him and she wants him back! With no clear plan in mind and only thirty days left until the divorce is finalised, the race is on to prove her love, regain his trust and save her marriage, before it's too late. A debut romantic comedy with a sprinkling of winter magic! 

You can buy How to Win Back Your Husband here




Sunday, 15 January 2017

Inspiration from a Lost Garden - Guest Post Merryn Allingham



There is nothing I like better than inviting good friends back onto Wendy's Writing Now - especially when they have a super new book out! Today, that person is the writer, Merryn Allingham. I first met Merryn at a gathering of local RNA members and she soon became a friend whose advice I value. She is a super writer and if you haven't read any of her books, you are definitely missing out.

Today, Merryn is answering my questions about The Buttonmaker's Daughter which is set in Sussex in 1914.

Can you remember where you were or what you were doing when the idea for The
Buttonmaker’s Daughter first came to you? 

I was on a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. Our guide had a fund of anecdotes and one he told was particularly poignant. It concerned the ordinary working men whose labour had created these beautiful gardens - a single image really, that lodged in my mind and set me writing.

The gardens’ heyday was in the late Victorian/Edwardian eras, several owners spending large amounts of time, money and effort in creating a veritable paradise. But in 1914, war came to England and everything changed. One day in the summer of that year, every gardener on the estate downed tools together and walked to Redruth to enlist at the local recruiting centre. Most of the men never returned, perishing in the mud of Flanders. The Day Book that would normally list jobs completed, that day carried only the date, and was never used again.

It was the image of those men, honourable and courageous, walking together to enlist in what they saw as a just cause, that stayed in my mind, and I knew I had to record that moment in a novel.


Can you describe your novel in one sentence?

As war and family conflict threaten the Summerhayes estate, Elizabeth Summer must decide how best to save her family from danger, yet stay with the man she loves.
  
How long did it take to write The Buttonmaker’s Daughter?

I did several months’ research in addition to what I already knew of the period, reading up on the social history of the country house, for instance, the timeline of the First World War, emigration to Canada and so on. Then three to four months writing a first draft, and another three months or so after that redrafting and hopefully refining. Around nine months in all, which is about average for me for a 90,000 word novel. But, of course, I wasn’t finished with the book then. There were agent’s suggestions to consider – whether to adopt or adapt or reject them. Then the editor’s revisions, the copy edits and finally the author alterations which was my very last chance to modify the ms. Giving birth to a book is a lengthy process!

What was your favourite chapter to write?

It’s difficult to choose a particular chapter but if I had to, I’d say the one in which Elizabeth finally takes the action she must, to save her lover and her family. That chapter also sets her on the path to a new future. (I’m saying no more – I don’t want to give the plot away!)

Is the Summerhayes mansion based on a real place?

The gardens of Heligan gave me the inspiration for the novel but the Summerhayes estate is my invention – I actually drew a detailed plan of its various parts. As for the house, Heligan’s mansion was long ago transformed into private apartments and I’ve no idea what the house looks like. In any case, Summerhayes had to be a ‘modern’ mansion because Joshua Summer, a Birmingham manufacturer, is ahead of his time and loves new inventions. And a modern mansion in the early 1900s was an Arts and Crafts house. I’ve put some of the pictures that were important to me on Pinterest.  https://uk.pinterest.com/merrynallingam/the-buttonmakers-daughter/


What attracted you to this period in history?

1914 was a cataclysmic moment for this country and I feel a deep attachment to the world that was lost then. The First World War affected millions of lives across every class and community, with so few understanding the reality of a war they were called to join. A veneer of innocence was lost and Britain was thrown into a century of total change. It could be argued as the most significant moment in our history. Philip Larkin's poem MCMXIV says it all:

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word

Do you see anything of yourself in any of your characters?

I always seem to write feisty heroines, usually young women fighting to gain their independence and the chance to live their lives as they decide. So maybe!

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I see a lot of my family, go out with friends for lunch or a film or the theatre. I’m a member of a book club and I enjoy being part of two different writing groups. I go to several dance exercise classes every week. Oh, and I’m learning Russian!

What does your family think of your writing?

My husband is hugely supportive, diligently reading every novel as it’s published and telling me how good it is. My son is proud of me, but doesn’t have time to read books, or so he says, and prefers his entertainment to be visual. My daughter-in-law tries to read them but she is Russian and the language is sometimes a struggle for her. And my daughter likes to hear what’s happening to me writing-wise but tells me she’ll only read my books once I’m no longer here. I’ve never been sure what to make of that!

What suggestions do you have to help a writer write better?
  • Don’t constantly self-censor. Relax and let the words flow. Some of what you write you’ll want to delete, but the rest will be worth keeping. A few sentences will be pure gold.
  • Read as much as you write. And read widely, not just in your genre.
  • Writing can be a lonely business, never more so when rejections start to flow, so you need to keep believing in yourself. If you look at the biographies of many of today’s most popular novelists, they’ve often been writing for years. Wasn’t it Lee Child who said, ‘It took me ten years to be an overnight success.' 

Bio:

Merryn Allingham worked for many years as a university lecturer and between job, family and pets, there was little time to do more than dabble in writing. But when the pressures eased, she grabbed the chance to do something she’d always promised herself – to write a novel. Under the name of Isabelle Goddard, she published six Regency romances, but in 2013 adopted a new writing name and a new genre. The Daisy’s War trilogy, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s, was the result.
Her latest books explore two pivotal moments in the history of Britain. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 as the First World War looms ever nearer and its sequel, The Secret of Summerhayes, forty years later in the summer of 1944 when D Day led to eventual victory in the Second World War.

If you would like to keep in touch with Merryn, sign up for her newsletter at www.merrynallingham.com




Sunday, 8 January 2017

Let's Celebrate a New Writing Year!


Hap... Hap... Happy New Year! 

I hope 2017 brings you everything you hope for.

On Wednesday, in time-honoured tradition, writing chum, Tracy Fells, and I got together to set out our writing goals for 2017. As we sat in our favourite cafe with our coffee and teacakes, we found ourselves looking back to the same day one year ago. We remembered how excited we were at having finished our novels and how the talk was all about where we would be in a year's time.  

2016 was to be 'The Year of the Novel' for us both but, as everyone knows, things don't always go to plan. I was incredibly lucky to find an agent fairly quickly but getting a novel ready for publication, in a format that everyone is happy with, hasn't been a simple process. I haven't talked a lot about it recently as things have been a bit up in the air.

Anyway, this leads me on to my targets for 2017 (or rather lack of them).

I will be putting my yearly targets on my blog but not until I've met with my agent in a couple of week's time. They have a new project they want to discuss with me and until that has happened, I can't really plan anything. You'll have to watch this space.

In the meantime, 2017 has started with a bang! I've already had two story sales and, at the time of writing, have five stories on sale in the shops - one in The People's Friend Special, two in Woman's Weekly Fiction Special, and two in Take a Break Fiction Feast (I can't imagine that happening again!). One of the stories was a ghost story but two were a new genre for me - crime mystery.

I was also excited to discover that the People's Friend have made a new audio of one of my stories, Out of the Dark. I loved this one and found it very moving as there is a lot of me in it (I had to hold my husband's hand when the reader got to the tube station scene as it brought back unsettling memories).

You can listen to my story here



Saturday, 31 December 2016

Did I Achieve My 2016 Writing Targets?



It's time to say goodbye to the old writing year and hello to a new one. 

In the first week of 2016, as tradition dictates, best writing chum Tracy Fells and I met up in our favourite teashop for teacakes. We weren't just eating teacakes though, we were setting our writing goals for the year. You can read the full post here.

So how did I do? 

Well, 2016 has been a strange year writing wise - a bit of a roller-coaster if I'm honest. My hope that this year would be 'the year of the novel' hasn't come to pass (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for next year) but it's not all been doom and gloom. I've had many stories published in three different magazines and this year, four of them have been turned into audios as well which has been very exciting. 

But what of my targets? The results are below and you can see that they are a little mixed.

Goal: To find an agent to represent me.
Achieved? Yes! At the beginning of the year, I was thrilled to be offered representation by the Eve White Literary Agency. You can read how it came about here.

Goal: To have written 50,000 words of novel two by the end of August ready to submit to the RNA New Writers' Scheme.
Achieved? No. The writing of novel number two had to be put aside as I was working on substantial edits for novel one. This was the novel I eventually submitted to the scheme and I can't thank my reader enough for her incredibly helpful comments.

Goal: To publish at least one more story collection.
Achieved? Sadly no. I can't self-publish any more story collections while I am under contract.

Goal: To write at least two short stories a month.
Achieved? Absolutely. Most months I've managed to write at least three. They've been a life saver during the often roller-coaster ride of novel writing and editing.

... and that's it folks.

All that's left is for me to wish you a very Happy New Year and thank you all for supporting my blog in 2016.


Sunday, 18 December 2016

My Writing Year 2016


Today, as tradition requires, I shall be looking back at all the lovely things I've been doing this year (excluding general story sales).

January - I started the year with the usual teacakes and goal setting with writing chum Tracy Fells and I shall be posting how I got on with them after Christmas. I re-joined the RNA New Writers' Scheme and Anita Chapman was my guest, talking about social media.

February - This month was the fifth anniversary of the day I started writing. I wrote a post on writing ghost stories and my blog guest Phillipa Ashley wrote about breaking writing rules.

March - Big news this month was that I was signed by the Eve White Literary Agency. I was interviewed by Helen M Walters in Writer's Forum about what I look for as a story competition judge. Debbie Howells was my guest, talking about writing psychological thrillers.

April - Went on a fabulous Lake District holiday.

May - Visited beautiful Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Elaine Everest was my guest, talking about the new novel, The Woolworths Girls. Had my first attempt at dumper truck racing!

June - Had an inspirational weekend in Florence. Went to the RNA summer party.

July - There were three lovely guests on my blog this month: Lynda Stacey (writing a debut), Becca Puglisi (show not tell your setting) and Helen Yendall (magazine writing).

August - Wendy's Writing Now had its 4th birthday. I was interviewed by Simon Whaley for an article in Writing Magazine about writing seasonal stories.

September - Had our annual holiday in Greece - this time the wonderful island of Ithaca.

October - Three guests this month: Julie Day (writing with asperger's) Cass Grafton and Ada Bright (successful co-writing) and Emily Royal (the RNA NWS). This month saw my story Too Good to Last published as an audio which you can listen to here. I was judge for the Nottingham Writers Group Rosemary Robb Ghost Story Competition and wrote another post on writing ghost stories.

November - This month, I  went to the RNA Winter Party. My blog guests were Kate Blackadder, Chrissie Bradshaw and Gill Stewart (writing cross genre). My story The Artist's Apprentice was published as an audio which you can listen to here.

December - The final month of the year saw a new updated version of Wendy's Story Timeline (interactive timeline). My final guest of the year was Patsy Collins talking about her new writing guide. Finally, I had four Christmas stories published in magazines and The People's Friend made an audio of another of my stories, The Girl in the Striped Sundress which you can listen to here.

All that's left is to wish you all a Merry Christmas... and I'll see you back on my blog after the festivities are over!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator Updated!


Last week, Patsy Collins, was a guest on my blog introducing her new writing guide, 'From Story Idea to Reader' (you can read the post here). In her book, under the chapter heading of 'useful reference materials', she provides a link to my Story Timeline Calculator.

So what is it?

That's easy to answer: it's what it says on the tin. It's a pretty fabulous tool for working out your story/novel's timeline, created for me by my husband when I got bogged down with paper and dates while writing an historical story. I don't know how I managed without it.

Just click on the timeline picture in the sidebar (or here) to find out more about it and download.

Why am I mentioning it again? Because Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator has just been updated... cue fanfare!

After feedback from some of the people who have used it, we have now included the following:
  • More character columns
  • A box to put in the start and end year of your writing project


What people have said about Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator:

"This is great for me as I always get a pickled brain writing my novels. They're family history inspired and call for past events connecting to the present so your time-line will be a brilliant help to me!"

"I'm working on a novel about the lives of several generations of people in a French village, so this will be invaluable."

"I can't even begin to find the words to express my appreciation. My first novel was a historical fiction that spanned generations and this would have saved me tears." 

My timeline calculator is free to download and use but if you want to make a small contribution to the hard work that's gone into it, there are a couple of my short story collections on the sidebar to choose from, each for the price of a cup of coffee!

If you find my timeline useful, please let me know in a comment and, if you share it, please credit this blog and provide a link  to it.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

From Story Idea to Reader - Guest Post Patsy Collins


This week's guest needs very little introduction - it is our very own Patsy Collins of Womagwriter fame. It's always a delight to welcome a fellow short story writer onto my blog and I'm even more pleased because she (along with writer Rosemary Kind) has written a new guide to writing short stories. It's called From Story Idea to Reader. With hundreds of magazine stories and competition wins under her belt, there is nobody better qualified to write a book like this and if you aren't already a short story writer and are thinking about having a go, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it (there's even a mention of my rather nifty Story Timeline in it).

So without more ado, let's start the interview.

What made you decide to write this book?

It's all my husband's fault! He said as I'd written articles (for Writing Magazine) about writing, a book was the logical next step. Logical? Yes, maybe, but also huge and a bit daunting.
I happened to mention this to Rosemary who immediately suggested a collaboration. Fairly quickly I realised her work as an editor and publisher plus the fact she can explain grammar, in a way which actually makes the subject clearer, would be assets.

We soon started planning what we'd do if we went ahead. Rosemary created a list of the topics we'd like to cover. Alongside each were initials. Mine were against subjects such as getting started, generating ideas, finding time, women's magazine fiction, competitions, staying motivated, getting and using feedback, keeping submission records... All things I knew about and was happy to tackle.

Rosemary felt the same way about the rest, which include grammar, self publishing, tax and legal matters associated with writing, characterisation, POV, editing, research...
As soon as we saw we really could do it we were eager to start.


How long have you known Rosemary?

We first met about nine years ago on a writing forum and then a critique group. It's amazing how well you can get to know someone through their writing, especially when you're part of the process. We've helped each other with our short stories and novels. Rosemary has edited some of my work and published it through her company, Alfie Dog Fiction.
We've even met for real a few times. On each occasion there was less cake and more dog walking involved than you might imagine. It would appear she's a good influence.

Was it difficult to co-write or was it all plain sailing?

Pretty much plain sailing. In fact I wrote a few short sections on board a ferry!
I'm not saying we never suggested that something the other had written could be improved (and other creative ways of expressing that general sentiment) but knowing this was solely for the good of the finished book meant I didn't mind rewriting until we were both happy. Rosemary still replies to my emails, which I'm taking as proof she feels the same way.

How long did it take you to write?

That depends how you look at it. We've both spent years building up the knowledge, experience, articles and course materials the book is based on. But once we had it all planned out we completed most of the new writing in around six months. We both write full time so, although we didn't concentrate solely on this project, that represents a lot of keyboard hours.

What can this book offer that other writing guides can’t?

It really does take a writer through the whole process from hunting down ideas and the basic equipment needed, through making the work the best it can be, to ensuring it gets read.
Between us we have experience of being published, of editing and publishing our own stories, and those of others. We've won, and run, and judged writing competitions. Most of all though, we're writers. We love writing and want to help others enjoy it too.

Did you find writing a resource book harder than writing fiction?

Not harder, no. It's different, just as writing a short ghost story is different from writing a romantic novel or an article. Although it's been done to make it more accessible to the reader, having the information broken down into shorter sections probably helped with the writing too.

Is there advice in it that you wish you’d followed when you first started?

All of it! But if you want me to be specific...
The exercises would have helped. Immediately applying something we've learned really does help retain the information. Naturally I'm biased, but I honestly do think many writers, particularly those just starting out or returning to writing after a break, will find From Story Idea to Reader useful and encouraging.

Links:

You can buy From Story Idea to Reader here


Patsy's blog:  for free entry competition links and other writing news is http://patsy-collins.blogspot.co.uk

Womagwriter blog:  for guidelines and other information regarding women’s magazine fiction http://womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk